Post Diwali, residents and visitors to Delhi are struggling to cope with severe levels of toxic air pollution that have prompted the authorities to declare an “emergency situation” in the national capital.
Schools have been closed and people advised to stay indoors as the toxic haze hangs over the city for over a week now.
This thick smog contains concentrations of harmful particles that are so high that these cannot be measured by most air quality instruments.
The level of PM2.5 pollutants, which are the most harmful as these can reach deep into the lungs and breach the blood-brain barrier, has reached at least 999 in parts of the city this week, more than 16 times the safe limit of 60.
As the blame game continues between the AAP-led Delhi government and the Centre, it is worrisome for the rest of the country too. If the situation in Delhi is so bad, how are other metros like Bengaluru?
According to experts, although Delhi is the cynosure of every Indian, other cities like Bengaluru, Mumbai and Kolkata get a raw deal.
Delhi’s severely high pollution levels post-Diwali and during the winter months drives it to India’s worst annual air quality levels, but on individual days, several Indian cities often experience worse air quality due to heavy vehicular congestion and burning of fuels.
According to a study by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in 2010, the dirtiest spot in Bengaluru, the busy Peenya junction, had PM2.5 levels below standards in all seasons.
Air quality monitoring conducted in September 2015, by Greenpeace India at major Bengaluru landmarks – from Christ College to the Reserve Bank of India – revealed PM10 readings massively in violation of national and international safety standards.
A news report in The Hindu in 2015, had stated that as per data from the CPCB and state pollution control boards and the new national air quality index (NAQI), the air quality in Delhi is mostly ‘moderate’ during the summers, whereas in other metros is low round the year.
Particulate matter is heavily dependent on weather conditions. Anumita Roychowdhury, head of the Centre for Science and Environment’s air pollution and clean transportation programmes, compiled data for Delhi from October 2014 onwards. The data shows that while there were “moderate” days in October, February and March, the second halves of November and December, and the first half of January were consistently “very poor”.
Moreover, the quality of air analyzers and methodology differs across the country, with Delhi having the most rigorous and advanced technology to check air quality.
For one, the government said all cities covered under the NAQI should have at least six monitoring stations, but only Delhi meets that target in the country.
Despite the best efforts of international bodies like WHO, Indian air quality data is sparse due to less technology.
Perhaps breathing bad air has become a part of our stoic lives, but it is time that we do something about it and take to the streets demanding cleaner, better India for ourselves and our future generations.